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Campaign Journals: Phonebanking in "Real" Virginia

10/24/2008 11:46 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Lisa Solod Warren is an OffTheBus grassroots correspondent. Each week she contributes a campaign journal documenting her life out on the trail.

It's busy in all the tiny rooms in the rabbit warren of the small headquarters located on a narrow side street in downtown Staunton, busier than I've ever seen it. And freezing. One volunteer laughs. "Well, we didn't have air conditioning in summer, so why should we have heat now?"

I laugh with her. Can it only be a couple of short months ago that we were sharing a fan and propping open the only door to afford a small breeze to alleviate the stifling summer sun?

Chris Nelson, the just-turned-twenty-three year old young man who is one of the two men who has been putting in fourteen-hour days running the headquarters is heading out the door and I tease him about having had to miss the Elton John concert in Charlottesville last week. He pokes his head back in the door and smiles, "Not funny!"

I head into one of the fake paneled rooms with the list just handed to me by Barbara Lee, the indefatigable middle-aged woman who has organized these Women For Obama Wednesdays, 6-9 p.m., throughout the month of October. "I think we're going to do so much better than they did last night," she crows.

Lee, who was a delegate to the Colorado convention, has seen it all. She's worked for John Kerry, Mark Warner, Jim Webb, and she's already gearing up for next year's gubernatorial campaign. Every time I've stopped by the office she's been there, and she's been there every day I haven't been, too. She's canvassed on foot and made hundreds of phone calls and she can't imagine what will happen if Obama doesn't win.

I take my list and head to a phone and just happen to sit next to a woman who recognizes me from my daughter's school. She and my daughter are in the same French class. Turns out Laura is in a "mixed" marriage, too; she's married to a Republican, only he's rabid, while my husband is a Federalist, who really wishes we could go back to the party of Lincoln. He doesn't like McCain personally, while Laura's husband does, but dislikes Palin, so he's not voting. We share this information in between calling still "undecided" voters.

"Can you believe anyone is l undecided this late in the game?" she shakes her head.

I tell her that I just read in this month's Harper's that researchers found that that 70 percent of voters who claim they are undecided have already made up their minds. I add that I think number is low. But both us find some alleged undecideds among those we telephone.

"My list is lousy," Laura says. This is her first time volunteering. "I don't like making telephone calls," she confesses, "I don't even like making my own. It makes me anxious." Still, she is here, and gamely carrying on. Many on her list are not home. Others are brutal, hanging up on her. But then, triumph.

"I just got a 58 year old first-time voter," she shouts. "And she's voting for Obama! She was so happy I called her. She said only Republicans have been calling. She wanted to tell me she's made up her mind to vote for Obama."

The joy on Laura's face is palpable. A stranger, a first time middle-aged voter on the other end of the phone has made her night.

My evening goes slightly better.

Several "undecideds" are hardly that. They had long ago, they say, made up their minds for Obama. "We have good news for you," one man says. "Both my wife and I are voting for Barack Obama!"

Another couple say they are "one hundred percent for Obama." And still others report to be strongly for the candidate. But I have my disappointments, too. One man tells me he's voting for the "town drunk." Another says Obama is a communist and hangs up before I can get a word in edgewise, and several more tell me in no uncertain terms that they support McCain and then quickly hang up the phone. Several others have their children and then I hear them tell those children to tell me that they are not home.

But all in all, Laura and I get through our many lists in the few hours we are at headquarters, as do the other callers, while still other volunteers update those lists, or write letters to the real undecided voters. When Laura and I exit the building together at nine o'clock, chilled to the bone, the lights are still burning and the people inside are still working.

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